Saturday, January 30, 2010

Apple needs to do its own Flash block for Safari

Flash is bad enough on my i5, but it's death for our old G5. Per Daring Fireball's recommendation I tried installing ClickToFlash.

Yech. I ran into a number of bugs related to non-admin accounts. This is rough software, not nearly as polished as FlashBlock for Firefox.

If Apple wants to get serious in its war against the evil Adobe Flash, they need to give us Flash blocking built into Safari.

YouTube science videos - not exactly sterling

This YouTube Cell Biology video has a five star rating. It was uploaded in 2007.

Uploaded in 2007, first recorded in 1981. It's not a biology video, it's a history of science video.

This isn't atypical.

I'd ask Google to give us a for YouTube videos, but I'm beginning to suspect there are only about 20 really good science videos on all of YouTube (like this one - link is to a family blog I'm experimenting with). That doesn't make for much of a search engine.

Dear Adobe: Please die and take Flash with you

Mac users don't like Flash. We have good reason. For example:

Adobe's typical response is that only a small percentage of web users have Macs or iPhones, and their market share is so great that resistance is futile.

Maybe Adobe is right, but Adobe resistance is not just an Apple thing. Google doesn't like Flash, neither does Mozilla, and Microsoft has Silverlight.

Of course, excepting Mozilla, none of these companies are angelic. I'd be friendlier to Adobe, except it's not just Flash that's crappy on the Mac. With the sole exception of Lightroom, (started on OS X) Adobe uses proprietary App installers that are absolute garbage (their updater platform on Windows is hardly better). Adobe has been blowing off customers for a very long time.

Go away Adobe. Go away Flash.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Memories of Auschwitz

Samuel Pisar was 16 when, in the last days of the war, he escaped from Auschwitz ...
Samuel Pisar - Out of Auschwitz -

... those of us who survived have a duty to transmit to humankind the memory of what we endured in body and soul, to tell our children that the fanaticism and violence that nearly destroyed our universe have the power to enflame theirs, too. The fury of the Haitian earthquake, which has taken more than 200,000 lives, teaches us how cruel nature can be to man. The Holocaust, which destroyed a people, teaches us that nature, even in its cruelest moments, is benign in comparison with man when he loses his moral compass and his reason.

After so much death, a groundswell of compassion and solidarity for victims — all victims, whether from natural disasters, racial hatred, religious intolerance or terrorism — occasionally manifests itself, as it has in recent days.

These actions stand in contrast to those moments when we have failed to act; they remind us, on this dark anniversary, of how often we remain divided and confused, how in the face of horror we hesitate, vacillate, like sleepwalkers at the edge of the abyss. Of course, they remind us, too, that we have managed to stave off the irrevocable; that our chances for living in harmony are, thankfully, still intact.

Computing for the rest of us: The iPad and the ChromeBook

He's a genius, but I've never thought of him as a humanitarian - or even as much of a human being. Yes, Bill Gates was also a right bastard, but he's paid his dues since.

Age, and mortality, can change people though. The iPad's a pretty thing, but the combination of iVOIP and the return of the Mac Plus and the keyboard and $10 iWorks apps and the $15/month no-contract 250MB limited data plan might shorten Jobs time in Limbo.

Yes, that mysterious $130 bump means the 2010 iPad is more than $500 - but by 2011 the device will sell for under $500 with 3G-equivalent capabilities. An additional $15 a month will provide basic VOIP phone services (uses very little bandwidth) and access to email and Facebook Lite -- even before the advertising subsidies kick in. Of course free Wifi access, such as in libraries, McDonald's, schools and so on will provide access to full internet services.

Why is this a big deal?

Think about your family. If it's big enough, your extended family will have at least one person who's, you know, poor. They may have cognitive or psychiatric disabilities. Or you may have a family member who, like most of American, can't keep a modern OS running without an on call geek. These people are cut off. They can barely afford a mobile phone, and they won't have both a mobile phone and a landline. They will have little or no net access. They may have an MP3 player, but it's dang hard to use one without a computer.

By 2011 the combination of a $400 iPad (and iTouch for less) and $15/month VOIP access will start to replace a number of devices that are costly to own and acquire, while providing basic net services at a rate that other family members can subsidize. Not to mention something pretty, which, speaking as someone who grew up poor, ain't a bad thing.

Steve Jobs - friend of the poor and the outcast. I wouldn't have guessed (ok, so I did predict this a year ago).

The Google Chromebook is on the same side of this revolution. The connected world is about to get a lot bigger.

Update 1/30/10: The OmniGroup, who know their computing, are saying the same thing. Maybe you have to have been around long enough to remember the original Mac, or the PalmPilot, or GEOS/GeoWorks. It helps to be old enough to have seen parents, friends and neighbors trying, and failing, to keep modern computing platforms working. There have been many attempts to break the computing divide, but this one has iPhone momentum -- and the ChromeBook is coming (recent pricing rumors are now below $100 - but the network connection price is what matters). It's a revolution guys.

Update 2/1/2010: Another one - Fraser Speirs - Future Shock. At this rate the meme will hit the NYT in about 3 days.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

First contact: we're cool with that

From the Royal Society 2 day conference on SETI, commentary on the most likely response to news of LGM ...
Even if we found aliens, how would we communicate? -
News, TV & Radio - The Independent

... If we do detect signals of extraterrestrial intelligence, one question posed by scientist attending the conference is how to cope with the public response. Will it result in fear, mass panic and riots?

Professor Albert Harrison of the University of California, Davis, believes this is unlikely, based on what he calls “historical prototypes”. In any case, social policies could be used to ease humanity into the “postcontact” era, he said.

“Many people already believe that extraterrestrial intelligence exists and are confident of their own ability to withstand the discovery but doubt other peoples’ abilities to cope,” Professor Harrison said.

“It is easy to imagine scenarios resulting in widespread psychological disintegration and social chaos, but historical prototypes, reactions to false alarms and survey results suggest that the predominant response to the discovery of microwave transmission from light years away is likely to be equanimity, perhaps even delight,” he said....
Hear that Zorgonian containment module 34141434? You can turn off the signal scrambler system now ...

iPad take 3: $130 for iVOIP?

My first iPad impression was surprise that Apple had allowed a keyboard. That makes the iPad a potential alternative to the $1500 Macbook Air. Then I saw it as a high-end netbook competitor.

That's impressive enough, but one thing has nagged at me. How could the inclusion of a $7 3G chip boost the cost of the iPad by $130? Yeah, I know Apple likes fat margins, but that's extreme even by their standards. It's not like it's subtle, and it's not like the AT&T wireless service is free. It's still $30/month, same as for the iPhone. [See Update, below]

There's one explanation that makes sense. The money is going to AT&T -- in addition to the $30 a month for data services.

How could AT&T possibly extract that much money? What hold could they have over Apple?

Well, one might imagine various contractual obligations, but Apple's lawyers are famously vicious. Apple is getting something for this money. Possibly, a lot.

What if Apple is giving AT&T the lion's share of that $130, but in return AT&T has agreed that Apple can provide SMS, VOIP and iChat (optional webcam attachment) services over the iPad's 3G connection?

In other words, iVOIP.

Take that Google Voice.

Might explain why Apple was willing to go to war over Google Voice on the iPhone.

This is going to be an interesting year in tech.

PS. Oh, yeah. And balanced DRM for eBooks is going to turn publishing upside down too.

Update 1/31/2010: See Andrew W's comment. Basically, I'm wrong about the $130 going to AT&T, it's probably going to Apple and it reflects development costs for the 3G integration. To quote Andrew:
... I don't think AT&T is getting a taste of the $629. I've never heard of that happening before, and Apple has way too much leverage against AT&T. I suspect the iPad price plans were part of some larger negotiation. (e.g., I wouldn't be surprised to start hearing rumors that AT&T's exclusive contract is extended.)

Also, don't forget that Apple gets a cut of your monthly iPhone bill. Apple/AT&T negotiations probably focused on that more than anything. My guess is that Apple reduced their cut in order to get a monthly price that they thought consumers would tolerate for a new and unproven device/market...

iPad take 2: the end of OS X

When a colleague asked why the iPad runs iPhone OS rather than OS X a wee bulb went off. Kind of like those little bittie bulbs that came with a camera flash in 1967.

The iPad with iPhone OS is the second coming of the original Macintosh. It runs an OS that anyone can use, including the 50% of the US that doesn’t really engage with the net or with personal computers. This is the OS for all those people who keep every photograph they’ve taken on a 4GB flash card in their camera.

Yes, I know the first Mac soon became far more complex. Twenty-five years ago the personal computer was growing into a geek market. Satisfying that market meant the platform became more and more powerful. That increasing power pleased geeks like me --- for a while. Even we, however, noticed that it was a lot of work to keep these machines happy.

Around the same time, a poor grad student in 1986 accidentally unleashed an internet worm. We know what came after. Security issues combined with platform complexity to give us a world in which non-geeks shouldn’t touch a connected computer.

The iPad and the App Store though, that can work for most anyone. The dependency on iTunes will fade away over time – look soon for online backup. I assume there will be viruses, but the iPhone world will be a very tough, locked down, target.

Chrome OS will be playing in the same big field – non-geek computing.

The geek environments won’t go away immediately, but the end is in sight. Ten years from now we may say that the iPad killed OS X.

My first iPad impressions were cautiously positive. I think I missed the real target. The iPad isn’t aimed at Microsoft or Google or even the Macbook. It’s aimed at everything.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

iPad impressions

The iPad is more interesting than I'd expected.

For one thing, even though it's not cheap when you get memory and a 3G chip, the fact that there's any model near $500 is better than I'd expected.

Most of all though, I'm surprised by the keyboard (though I'd like to see mouse support). This is going to steal some Macbook and Macbook Air sales, including in the student market. I wonder if we'll see iPads bundled with textbook contracts.

Between the price and the keyboard this is Apple's preemptive response to the Google-branded Chrome OS netbook due out this fall. Another front has opened in the Apple-Google war. It will be interesting to see if Microsoft announces any software support for the iPad, or if they optimize their web version of Office for the iPad.

It was mildly disappointing that, as on the iPhone, only Apple is allowed to multitask. I still hope we'll see something with iPhone OS 4. The bigger downer is that adding an AT&T 3G chip cost $130!

The cost of the 3G chip is probably about $10. That's a lot of margin, even for Apple. Are there astounding licensing fees? Is this partly to keep AT&T's network from melting down in two months?

Speaking of AT&T, how the heck can they support an iPad with a $30/month unlimited data plan? Their network is already broken; can you imagine the hit from a media-oriented iPad?

Even so, I'm pleased. I'll take a look at Andrew's when it arrives, but I'm also due to get a new iPhone this year. I'm hard pressed to justify an iPad too, especially if the iPhone gets the keyboard option. As for the kids, it comes down to price. If the GoogleBook gets in below $150 it will be hard to resist.

PS. Cringely got taken.

Update: Steven Fry really likes the iPad.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Royal Society - video presentation on SETI II

I share the common geek interest in the failure of SETI and it's possible relationship to the Fermi Paradox. So I was pleased to read that the Royal Society will record a lecture by Paul Davies on "The Eerie Silence"...
Fifty years ago, a young astronomer named Frank Drake pointed a radio telescope at nearby stars in the hope of picking up a signal from an alien civilization. Thus began one of the boldest scientific projects in history: the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). But after a half-century of scanning the skies, astronomers have little to report but an eerie silence, eerie because many scientists are convinced that the universe is teeming with life. The problem could be that we've been looking in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and in the wrong way. In this lecture Professor Davies will offer a new and exciting roadmap for the future of SETI, arguing that we need to be far more expansive in our efforts, by questioning existing ideas of what form an alien intelligence might take, how it might try to communicate with us, and how we should respond if we ever do make contact.
Professor Paul Davies is a British-born theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist and best-selling author. He is Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science and Co-Director of the Cosmology Initiative, at Arizona State University...
The lecture is roughly today, but the video should show up in on Feb 2 on the page. It's "view on demand", so I'll have to use my copy of Audio Hijack Pro to get the audio to my iPhone. I don't see a feed to notify of Video availability, so I tried to use Google Reader's new feed creation feature to create a notifier, but it failed.

I've subscribed to the Royal Society podcasts feed, but I don't think that will include this lecture. If they look interesting I'll add them to iTunes.

How to unlock a padlock - handy reference

Every so often you'll have a combination-free master lock padlock stuck somewhere.

It's easier to pick the padlock than cut it off.

Handy to have this as a reference.

Monday, January 25, 2010

My Gwynne Dyer feed - at last

Gwynne Dyer is a curmudgeonly military historian journalist. He's 66, I think I read him when I was a kid in Montreal. You can't read him there any more, Conrad Black owns much of Canada's press and he doesn't like Dyer.

I've followed him for years, but he's remained resolutely stuck in the early 1990s. His web articles are ".txt", not ".html". Feeds are impossibly futuristic for Dyer, which is a problem since he publishes erratically.

I tried monitoring him with ChangeDetection and Page2RSS and Feedity, but not Dappit. They were all finicky, and nothing worked for long. I finally gave up last year.

Today, though, Dyer 2010 has a Google generated feed:

All you need to do to get a feed like this is to put a page URL into the Google Reader "Add a Subscription box". If GR can't find a feed, it creates one.

It doesn't show anything yet because I just created it. It won't show anything until Dyer posts something. For now though I see quite a few 2009 and 2010 articles I can catch up on. I'll use the "Note in Reader" function to comment on those I like, you can get a feed on my Google Reader items here: My Google Reader Shared items (feed).

Update: Oops. "note in reader" doesn't work with .txt pages.

Update 3/13/10: The Google Feed isn't working. I suspect they can't process .txt files served up by http! An anonymous commenter suggests using the NZ Herald Feed for Dyer and reveals he has a twitter feed as well. I'll try both.

Incidentally, most of my posts show up when I do a Google search scoped to This one doesn't. Curious.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Living with technology regressions in the post-performance era

I'm slowly getting used to living with the post-Moore's Law era of technology regressions.

It's taken a long time to get over my early computing experience. Switching from an 8086 to an 80386 in the DOS era was pretty much pure progress. The transition to OS/2 then to Windows 95 involved many regressions, but I imagined that was a one time anomaly. Win 98 to NT to 2000 to XP was pretty much all improvement (I skipped ME of course).

Same story in my early Mac days. Things just got better - until MacOS 7 ran into TCP/IP. That was a train wreck, but it did get sorted out. When I returned to the Mac I was using OS X 10.1 (or 10.2?) and that was good too.

Ok, so some great software died without replacement. I should have adjusted my expectations. What can I say? I'm a geek. CPUs kept getting faster. It helped me overlook a lot of things.

Alas, the decrepit state of the Wikipedia entry on Moore's Law speaks volumes. We may get more transistors, but clearly we're not getting more performance. We're in the post-performance era.

In our new era some things get better, some things get worse. Personal computing is middle-aged. Progress is uneven.

I'm in the midst of one of those tech churn transitions now with my backup systems.

I'm not paranoid about backups, because the universe really is trying to destroy my data. I'm just realistic.

Realism means I've long had fully automated rotating off-site backups, and, as backup software quality has regressed, I've moved to having two completely distinct automated backup systems. (If two distinct systems each have a 90% reliability rate, then the probability one will work is 1-(0.1*0.1) or 99.9%. It's almost impossible to equal that reliability from a single affordable product.)

So I probably still have a reliable backup system, but it's more work to maintain than my old system. In some ways it's also less flexible, in particular my laptop backups are less reliable. I'm having to adjust my workflow to the new environment, and that means some functional regressions.

Middle-aged post-Moore computing means living with regressions. The trick is realizing when a true functional regression has occurred, and then being able to say good-bye to the better for the sustainable.

Update 1/25/10: I just found this 2006 tech post of mine complaining about the backup market. It's been a bad few years for backup. I should also highlight a comment Andrew W made (see below):
On Windows there's Home Server, which is about as carefree a centralized/networked backup solution as you can get.
The Apple equivalent to Home Server is Time Capsule. I would like to see Apple do a more complete backup/media server/file server home server solution.

Friday, January 22, 2010


I'm a late comer to Randall Munroe's xkcd.

Wikipedia tells me the web comic will be five years old next September.

I'm sorry I've missed out, but both the Achive or the feed are helping me catch up. The loving Wikipedia article includes many annotated comic citations.

Munroe is a genius. He must also be a rebel, for it's not at all clear how he makes any money. He reportedly donated all the proceeds from his one book, and there are no ads on the immensely popular web site.

Phishing with the post-Turing avatar

Blip. The wall is showing the bright smile of my personal medical attendant. Just on time, as always.

I'm delighted to see her, and I can see her quite well thanks to my new lenses and corneal stem cell transplants. My 90 yo brain doesn't work that well, but my eyes are better than they've ever been.

She's lovely to my eyes. Early middle-aged, asian with a dazzling smile I work for. If my brain were forty years younger I'd realize she looks quite a bit like my daughter.

Katie gives me a big smile. She chats about my medications and exercise program. I've been working hard -- I don't want to disappoint her. That part of the conversation goes quickly. We have time to chat. I know Katie works for my health care insurance program, but we always have time to talk about my life and especially about her life.

If I had a younger brain, I'd wonder why Katie has so much time to talk. But I don't.

Katie is sad today. It's not the first time, but this time she opens up. Her son is ailing. He reminds me of my own younger boy. I've got to help. Katie resists, but I insist on authorizing a credit transfer ...

This is so going to happen. Even if we don't get Skynet before 2050, we'll definitely have three dimensional avatars that can pass the Turing test of a lonely mildly-demented 90 year old. They'll provide many services -- such as encouraging medication compliance. The real return, however, will be on launching massive phishing attacks against billions of people.

See also:

Health care. We lost.

Sometimes, the good guys lose.

We lost this one. We're no closer to universal good enough care than we were four years ago. Maybe further.

It was close. In retrospect, with perfect knowledge, there were alternative routes that might have worked. The route we took had too many opportunities to fail.

I'm saddened, but not surprised. I thought the quality of discussion during the failed Clinton reform was poor (for which I blame Hillary actually), but it was golden compared to this go round. The vast majority of educated middle class Americans had absolutely no idea what was going down. No idea ... and little interest. Without that core support the politics were awful.

So what happened to the educated middle class? Age is a part of it. We're an older, graying, fear-filled nation in transition. The boomers imagine medicare will be there, and gray American hates change.

The collapse of the fourth estate was another contributor. In the 1980s media coverage of the Clinton plan was superb; twenty years later it was almost worthless. It was easy for a fearful, sclerotic, population to stop paying attention.

Above all, though, I finger the same mixture of complexity and corruption that led to the Great Recession. We're paralyzed.

So now what?

It goes to the states. The only congressional action that would help at this point would encourage states to experiment widely and to create inter-state health care plans.

At the state level, I expect real change to come under Republican governors. Only Nixon could go to China, and perhaps only GOP governors can transform American health care.

So maybe losing isn't all bad. I've long believed achieving affordable universal health care in America would require the same kind of massive disruption that destroyed General Motors. That kind of disruption is not politically feasible; but markets will do it. The best GOP governors are capable of wedding the destructive forces of markets to socially desirable outcomes. That's the path that's left to us now.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Google trouble: Blogger and Search

Google’s getting a lot of flack for a less than spectacular launch of the gPhone (Nexus One). I’m not too worried about that, I think they’ll get it working. I’m also still optimistic about the Chrome OS netbook – though if it costs over $200 I’ve got yet another public mea culpa waiting.

On the other tentacle, I am getting bad feelings about two Google services I have long relied on – Search and Blogger. I think the problems may be related.

Blogger is the proverbial coal mine canary. It is clearly not thriving. There’s still no iPhone or DROID app for posting or editing, there’s an undocumented and unfixed 5000 post limit, there’s no mobile-optimized version of blog pages, the BlogThis bookmarklet was never updated to support categories, the rich text editor has many longstanding bugs, there’s no spam detection on comments, the Blogger in Draft blog was silent from Nov 28 through Jan 20 (yesterday!) and so on.

Why isn’t Google investing in Blogger? My best guess would be some mix of

  • Inability to manage Blogger spam blogs (splogs)
  • High success rate of search index poisoning comment spam
  • High rate of click fraud related to Blog associated adwords
  • Low rate of revenue from Blogger adwords
  • Declining readership numbers
  • Failure of the confusing “Follower” and Google Reader note/comment programs
  • Confusion from the rise of Twitter (confuses me too) and Facebook

Several items on my speculative list implicate search index poisoning problems. These “Search engine optimization” scams degrade search results, which leads to a spiral of click fraud and declining ad word revenue.

Which brings me to the bigger Google problem. The quality of the search results is deteriorating. On technical topics that I search on, I’m getting a large number of junk web sites. I have to use my Google custom searches to find good results. When I search on hard-to-find answers that I know I’ve addressed in my own ad-free tech blog, I don’t get any useful hits at all. It’s not just that I don’t find my marvelous stuff – I don’t find any answers anywhere.

In several instances, Bing has done better. In particular, Bing seems to find fewer splogs and fraudulent ad-heavy pages – perhaps because the scummy SEO gang is still optimizing for Google. (Bing’s time will come.)

Google is only as good as their search engine, and that engine is under relentless attack from the same emergent attacks that killed usenet and severely wounded email. At the moment, the parasites are winning – and threatening to kill their current host.

Google needs a winning response. They’ve got bigger problems than lousy phone service.

Update 1/21/10: See comments for a response from one of Bloggers Product Managers, it's an encouraging rebuttal. Per that comment I corrected the name of the Blogger in Draft blog; the official Blogger blog is

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Is there a club for people who hate OS X permissions?

I'm looking for a club made up of people who hate Apple's brain-dead OS X permissions/security scheme.

In the latest installment of OS X misery consider a file on a shared 10.5 drive. Whenever I edit the file from a 10.6 machine it's saved in such a way that my wife loses edit permissions -- even though both she and I have read/write permissions on the parent folder.

OS X needs to abandon its broken unix-style permissions and imitate Windows 7/Vista/XP/2000/NT. (The admin/user issues with Vista to NT weren't related to the permissions model - but that's another post.)

Grrrr. I wish the OS X customer base were way more demanding. Insufficiently demanding customers are one of the three banes of modern commerce (Two others: lock-in and fraud/deception).

See also:
Update 1/18/10: No sooner do I write this rant that I have to figure out how to fix a novel permissions hassle related to moving a VMWare Package between users. This stuff is seriously evil.

Update 1/19/09: See comments. Inspired by Andrew W, I dredged up a memory of John Sicracus's famous 10.4 review telling us that Apple was going to fix their broken permissions model years ago! Today in their OS X server marketing you can read (emphases mine) ...
Mac OS X Server supports both traditional UNIX file permissions and access control lists, giving administrators an unprecedented level of control over file and folder permissions. With access control lists, any file object can be assigned multiple users and groups, including groups within groups. Each file object can also be assigned to allow and deny permissions, as well as assign a granular set of permissions for administrative control, read, write, and delete operations. Mac OS X Server supports a file permission inheritance model, ensuring that user permissions are inherited when files are moved to the server and rewritten when files are copied to the server.
ACLs have been used in the Windows world since NT inherited them from OpenVMS. This is one of several areas in which Windows has been far ahead of OS X.

The problem, of course, is that Apple has not provided an equivalent of Tiger's Workgroup Manager GUI in 10.6 standard to work with ACls, and they presumably break a lot of current software. Apple gave up on the 10.6 migration to ACLs, perhaps because of the Intel migration and the introduction of the iPhone OS.

Sandbox provided an ACL control GUI for 10.4 10.5 users, but it's not been updated for 10.6. Apple does allow us to download their Server Admin Tools which can reputedly edit ACLs on non-servers. (It only installs on OS X server.)

See also:
I'll have to continue this one in my tech blog. (BTW, Bing did better than Google at finding these references.)

Update 3/11/2010b: I try to write to a network share. I run into the 10.6 MobileMe cannot log in as other user bug. Then nothing seems to happen. I have to kill the Finder. On the other machine I discover over 45,000 0 byte files have been written. Permissions bug. I despair.

My Google Reader Shared items (feed)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Why we need Google Book scanning - the End of Eternity

At a small but classic library in West St Paul (which is south of St Paul, but on the "west" side of the Mississippi) I came across a book from my childhood: The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov (1955). It's a time travel book, full of cliches.

Except they weren't cliches then.

At the above Amazon link you'll find "We don't know when or if this item will be back in stock." That's sad. The End of Eternity is not a classic book, but it's a fun book by a man who wrote a lot, and got good at it.

Over at Google Books we learn that the End of Eternity was digitized Mar 25, 2008 at the University of Michigan. We can't read it though. Under current US copyright law it goes into the public domain at about the end of eternity. (You didn't realize copyright was now effectively eternal? Missed that one eh?)

Google gets a lot of flack for their book project. I'm sure they're imperfect, but I think they're fundamentally right.

Go Google.

Update 1/20/10: Ok, so I could have picked a better example. Charlie Stross tells me I should have looked a bit longer (52 reviews, 5 stars). It seemed like such a good example at the time! In my defense the reviews are quite old, and refer to the book as "hard to find" in 2000.

Update 1/20/10b: Charlie wrote this long post today. Google is not his friend. Mea culpa.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Who killed Instant Messaging?

I know the smell of a dying solution, and IM's got it bad. It's not dead yet, but it's got seven tentacles in the grave.

I came late to IM, so I've only now realized why the party is so quiet. I started with Beejive on my iPhone as an SMS alternative. It worked fairly well, though I ran into server disconnect and message delay problems. Then I started using it with Google Talk at work. There I ran into issues with messages going to one client or the other but not always both.

It wasn't until I started looking at multi-account desktop XP clients, however, that I realized how bad things were. That's where I found cr*pware bearing unwanted toolbars, neglected and buggy open source solutions, walled gardens from AOL and Microsoft, and web apps that want my google credentials (good luck with that).

Yee-uch. I know that smell!

So if IM is dead or dying, who held the knife?

I'm guessing it was a combination of Twitter, SMS/texting bundles, the mobile migration, the unflinching stupidity of Yahoo/AOL/Microsoft/Skype (basically everyone but Google), the non-multitasking iPhone and, above all, the complete absence of any plausible revenue stream [1].

[1] So why are there pretty-good IM clients on the iPhone? Hint.
My Google Reader Shared items (feed)

Window resizing - OS X vs. XP

On XP I can get "stuck windows" when I move my laptop between displays. These are windows that I can't resize, because they're too large for me to reach the right lower corner. (I think there are other causes of stuck windows.)

On OS X if I click the green "right size" button windows resize to fit the screen -- without going full screen. So they don't get stuck.

It's a small feature, but the sum of these small things is part of what makes Apple products a pleasure to use.

Alas, as is common these days, there are signs of regression to the lowest common denominator. iTunes doesn't work properly, and when Apple tried to make the "right size" button work correctly users rebelled and Apple reverted to the bad behavior (it creates a mini-player instead, you have to option-click to get it to work). Many apps uses to try to guess how to best use the display surface, but now they fill the screen -- which is absurd on a 27" monitor.

Does Windows 7 do anything clever here, or is stuck in the XP world?
My Google Reader Shared items (feed)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haiti: Why I donate via CARE.ORG

During disasters like this it's common to donate to the American Red Cross. Obviously, a reputable place -- but you run the risk of getting spammed, mailed, phoned, etc.

CARE.ORG, a four (max rating) star charity, doesn't harass me - and I've been using them for at least six years. If they do email or contact you, tell them to put you on their no-contact-ever list. It works

They're active in Haiti ...
CARE: Donate Now:
... CARE is deploying additional emergency team members to the devastated city of Port-au-Prince in Haiti, where the worst earthquake in 200 years destroyed houses and left thousands homeless...
CARE will use your money well. Recommended.
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Innovations in comment spam

Comment spam continues its rapid evolution. Despite my reluctant surrender to the Captcha I'm seeing novel mutations every few months.

A recent technique is to write a reasonably detailed comment about a fairly specific topic, like "junk DNA". A query engine then identifies all blog posts that have a high match to the comment. An automated posting process, perhaps with some tool-assisted human powered captcha processors (via Amazon's Mechanical Turk?), submits the post to thousands of blogs.

Even with human review, the comment submissions will be a good quality match to a meaningful number of blog posts. The comment gets posted, and the spammers get something of value (link referrals?).

The one I rejected today was clumsily written, so it was fairly easy to spot. It contained an unnecessarily specific reference to a "first post", the author name was a marketing phrase, and the grammar and phrasing could have been better. I've probably missed better ones!

We can expect rapid improvement. In time they might evolve to transiently novel insights statistically applied to the right spot at the right time. At that point, would we not welcome them?

In the meantime we do need Google to start filtering these comments the same way they filter email. This particular approach lends itself to statistical filters, and of course the use of author reputation in filtering algorithms. Alas, Google has forgotten all about poor Blogger ...
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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Brave new world: China attacks Google

Based on the phrasing and response, it's clear that Google believes this attack was launched by parties working for the government of China. We can also assume that the "relevant US authorities" (FBI) agree with them. I wonder if the targeted companies used software with similar vulnerabilities.
Official Google Blog: A new approach to China

Like many other well-known organizations, we face cyber attacks of varying degrees on a regular basis. In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. However, it soon became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security incident--albeit a significant one--was something quite different.

First, this attack was not just on Google. As part of our investigation we have discovered that at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses--including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors--have been similarly targeted. We are currently in the process of notifying those companies, and we are also working with the relevant U.S. authorities.

Second, we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves...

... We launched in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that "we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China."

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered--combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web--have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China.

The decision to review our business operations in China has been incredibly hard, and we know that it will have potentially far-reaching consequences. We want to make clear that this move was driven by our executives in the United States, without the knowledge or involvement of our employees in China who have worked incredibly hard to make the success it is today. We are committed to working responsibly to resolve the very difficult issues raised.
This may be the end of Google's services in China. We should expect their share price to fall in the morning. Google's "evil score" has now dropped to the lowest possible level for a public corporation.

Update 1/13/10: There's a lot of commentary this morning, including comparisons to how the USSR hobbled itself by shutting out access to world knowledge. I'm wondering if Google's increasingly powerful and ubiquitous machine translation services played a precipitating role. Language has been the cultural equivalent of the Himalayas - preserving China from cultural invasion. I suspect the Chinese government is very concerned about widespread direct unmediated access to English language materials.
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Dark matter DNA

Our universe is largely built with matter that shapes large structures, but doesn't interact with electric fields - including light. It's dark matter.

There's a funny similarity to our DNA ...
Borna Virus Discovered in Human Genome - Carl Zimmer -

...Fossil viruses are also illuminating human evolution. Scientists estimate that 8.3 percent of the human genome can be traced back to retrovirus infections. To put that in perspective, that’s seven times more DNA than is found in all the 20,000 protein-coding genes in the human genome.
In the physican universe dark matter is only about 70% of all matter, but in humans "dark DNA" is 97%+ of all DNA. So our DNA is about 2% protein coding, 8% retrovirus, and 90% other - including non-retroviral virus origin and "structural". (Yes, I know that's "four times" and Zimer says "seven times" - his numbers are more likely correct.)

So from a DNA perspective, are we basically an ambulatory viral ecosystem with a fraction of information capacity that does things like make brains and bodies? Seems a bit much, but it turns out even some of the most important protein coding DNA is of viral origin. In a companion post on his blog Zimmer writes ...
... a virus protein called syncitin ... is essential for placentas to develop. Cells push the protein to their surface, where it lets them latch onto other cells, fusing together to create a special layer through which nutrients can pass from mother to child. The protein got its start on viruses, which use it to latch onto host cells and fuse to them, allowing their genes to slip in.

But recent research has revealed an intriguing new twist to our viral legacy. It turns out that the viral surface protein in question has a second job. It also tamps down the immune system of its host...
So is there any non-structural DNA in humans that's not of fundamentally viral origin?

See also: Presser on the bornavirus article ... UTA News Center

PS. A search on Preeclampsia and bornavirus has 180 hits today, but I think they appear to be loose and coincidental relationships. I didn't see research relating bornavirus-like superinfection triggering auto-immune placental disruption and thus pre-eclampsia / toxemia.

Update 1/30/2010: io9 quotes Frank Kelly: "[T]he human genome has evolved as a holobiontic union of vertebrate and virus... ". A Coral holobiont is "the entire community of living organisms that make up a healthy coral head".

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Lessons from my leonine chat icon

If you inspect my profile on various OS X and Google systems lately, you'll see a theatrical yawn ...

There's a lesson in the yawn. When I created a new user account on my i5 running 10.6, I chose a standard animal icon. Since it's a family machine, I wanted to choose an icon that would impress the children (didn't work). Hence the lion.

I then connected that account to my MobileMe account and, just as I found on 10.5 11 months ago, the login image on the iMac propagated to all my MobileMe associated machines, wiping out whatever I had there.

It ate them.

Then, after I fiddled with iChat and Adium, it propagated to Gmail and GoogleTalk/Video Chat and the wider world.

None of this is documented of course. It just happens. It's an emergent behavior; a side-effect. One bit of whimsy, and bam -- I'm a lion everywhere.

There will be more of these things in years to come. More strange leakages and propagations.

If you want something private, keep it on paper. And keep the paper out of range of Vicon Revue wearing lifebloggers ...

Update 1/12/10: Today I notice the OS X 10.6 lion has metastasized to my Google Reader Shared By ...
I'm sure this is violating all kinds of copyright laws, but all of my actions were entirely correct. I think I'll just have to get used to my emergent avatar. Maybe he'll appear on my virtual tombstone.

Update 1/18/10: Here it is on my Google Profile.
This is really silly. I'm going to try restoring the GP image and see if it propagates the other way.

Update 2/9/10: Now it's spread to Google Buzz.
Only it's no longer affixed by my gmail address, it's attached to my corporate email!
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If you're wondering where your money went ...

Still way down from the peak, almost 10 years later ...
Bubbleheads II - Grasping Reality with Opposable Thumbs:

S&P 500, June 30, 2000 close: 1455
S&P 500, December 31, 2009 close: 1145
Consumer Price Index, November 2009/June 2000: 1.26

Real price decline: -37.5%...
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Saturday, January 09, 2010

How removing my car stereo gave me my Apple iSlate prediction

[Update: iPad is the name. My post-release verdict is even more flamboyant.]

Geeks are all tingly in the run up to Steve Jobs' iSlate/iPad/whatever announcement. The last time I remember this level of geek thrill was just before the Segway was announced.

Oh, you don't remember that? Well, it wasn't the Segue of a thousand jokes back then. It was a mysterious product that was going to transform the world. (Who knows, when gas is $12/gallon maybe it will.)

The Segway is a cautionary tale, but I'm rooting for Mr Jobs. Even his mistakes are interesting, and if anyone can make a slate exciting it's the man in the black shirt. Personally I'm much more interested in the $150 Chrome OS gBook, but I'll be tracking the fan sites nonetheless. I expect the slate to solve at least one problem I have, and to solve it in a way that will work for my iPhone and desktop too.

I expect Mr. Jobs to come up with a Digital Rights Management scheme for books that we can live with -- just as he (and his team) have done for video and apps. (BTW, do you think anyone notices that balanced DRM is the key to Apple's App Store windfall? The industry hasn't missed this, even though the media has.)

I want Apple to do this, because this morning I couldn't figure out how to get my ultra-geeky SONY car stereo out of my dying 1997 Subaru Legacy (we bought the Forester, not the whacked new Outback). I knew Crutchfield would have great directions, but they charge $10 for detailed directions unless you're buying a stereo -- and they US Mail them.

The price was a bit steep, but the real problem for me was US Mail. They do this, of course, because if they let users download a PDF they'd sell one copy of the directions.

What Crutchfield and I needed was a DRM approach that was a reasonable balance between their interests and mine. If they had that, they might sell the directions electronically for a more appealing $5.

That's my iSlate prediction. That Jobs/Apple will include a DRM solution for printed material that will, like their DRM for Apps, be a reasonable balance between the rights of publishers and the interests of consumers.
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Inbox zero - mastering email

I'm doing a 1 hour session on mastering email at my day job. I get to do this because, after 20 years of struggling with email, I have finally figured out how to do it.

For what it's worth I'll add a link to my presentation here after Jan 24th, but there's no great mystery to it. The most important intervention was reducing inflow. Of course I got rid of all email lists, newsletters and the like -- if an organization can't figure out blogs they're unlikely to have anything useful to tell me. Most of all though, I reduced the number of email replies and misdirected emails that I get.

I reduced the number of email replies by, paradoxically, spending more time crafting precise responses, and by being quicker to convert dysfunctional email to a meeting or phone call. I craft my response to an email so that no further correspondence should be necessary. If an email discussion goes beyond two cycles that's a meeting. It's almost always, in this context, a brief, productive, and satisfying meeting. The body of the meeting appointment, by the way, includes the last email sent. (In Outlook drag and drop the email on the calendar icon.)

I reduced the number of emails I had to reply to by gently educating my correspondents about what goes on the To line. The To line should include only people with tasks - such as the single person who should respond.

I reduced the time required to process and triage email by gently teaching about the correct use of the subject line. It should tell the reader what the email is about and what's needed. I change the subject line when I reply to precisely describe my replay -- including an answer summary. This subject line also makes my full-text search email archives more valuable.

These days the email I get is satisfying. It's increasingly well written, targeted, and easy to respond to. I'm now in a virtuous feedback loop; good email begets good email. (though example alone is not enough, cautious education is needed to).

More after the 24th of January.

See also some other posts of mine:
Update 11/8/10: Here's the presentation I promised. It should have all the corporate references expunged.

Friday, January 08, 2010


I came across Bermuda cruising the ocean floor on Google Earth...

There's a lot down there.

IOT: Samarkand, the Sogdians and the Silk Road

Once it was Maracanda, ruled by Alexandere. Centuries later, before Rome fell, the Persian speaking Sogdians flourished there, at the heart of the a historically trading empire that lasted from before 300 CE until after 700 CE. They were the traders of the Silk Road, and the conduits for Buddhism and much knowledge of China, India, Asia and places West.

Later their city became a place of Arab history - Samarkand.

Today Samarkand is in Uzbekistan ...

It's a hike, but it's a city of about 400,000 and it's open for tourism. In Google earth you can see their photos.

You can learn the story of the Sogdians, and a surprising amount of China's endless story by listening to ...

BBC - Radio 4 - In Our Time - The Silk Road

In 1900, a Taoist monk came upon a cave near the Chinese town of Dunhuang. Inside, he found thousands of ancient manuscripts. They revealed a vast amount of evidence about the so-called ‘Silk Road’: the great trade routes which had stretched from Central Asia, through desert oases, to China, throughout the first millennium....

Most of what we know of this people comes from a small cache of lost Sogdian mail, and the stories the Chinese told of the them. If not for that accident, we'd know almost nothing.

And yet, they changed the course of history.

Obama and the underwear bomber

I’ve not written much about the underwear bomber, mostly because the inanity of the public discussion is so depressing.

Schneier, as usual, has the most rational coverage. He points out that even our inevitably imperfect security measures do increase the challenges of bomb preparation, and thus the probability that an attack will fail. So even though metal-free recto-vaginal or intra-abdominal bombs can bypass millimeter-wave scanners or backscatter x-ray these devices will still increase the cost of a successful attack. (Though there are probably more cost-effective measures to increase security.)

One lesson from this attack is that we need to make an understanding of positive predictive value a requirement for high school graduation. It’s also clear that the controversial ridiculous fashion for teaching Latin is a major distraction from a desperate need to teach logic.

Lessons aside, I think the response of the Obama administration is interesting to watch. They clearly know that there’s not much that could have been done to stop this attack, and they know that they have to placate our spine-free hysterical nation. More interestingly, it looks like they’re trying to use this to attack the incompetent intelligence network we’ve inherited – even though, in this case, even a very good network would have failed.

It’s the equivalent of jailing a mobster for tax evasion when you can’t get ‘em for murder and mayhem.

PS. I’m so glad our heroic savior is a leftie foreigner who makes “low budget films”. At least we’ve been spared the usual celebratory histrionics.

Update: On further reflection, inspired by a polite comment, I was a bit harsh on the teaching of Latin. I do think there are substantially better uses of educational resources, but "ridiculous" was unmerited.

Update b: Schneier has summarized his recommendations. Perfect, as usual.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The spooky power of Google Suggest

Some people buy new cars every few years.

We drive our cars into the ground. Our 12 yo Subaru wagon won't start, so it's a goner. There's not much to salvage, except our uber-geeky SONY CDX-GT610UI MP3, AAC, USB, iPod etc car stereo.

I didn't know how to remove it, so I start typing "how to remove car .." and Google gives me several good options, including one that talks about doing without a "DIN tool".

Where can I buy a DIN tool? Google suggest throws up the Scosche DIN Radio Removal Tool.

The searches themselves were anticlimactic. Google Suggest had already done the heavy lifting.


PS. Ok, so the reality isn't quite as magical as I make it out to be. I had the PDF installation guide and between it and some light Google work I figured out I actually need a special anti-theft SONY-specific "release key". Still, Google Suggest is seriously cool.

Update 1/9/10: Ok, so, in retrospect, my first search was wrong. Turned out that my 12 yo Subara installation didn't use the standard kit at all. Wiki Answers told me how to remove the unit from my 1997 Subaru Legacy. I did, however, discover something interesting about the business of selling answers.
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Archaic communications in 2010 - Gmail example

Dear Visitor from 2020:

I know you feel things haven't progressed very far, but you really need to take a look at how we did communications in 2010.

Believe it or not, in 2010 Google's Gmail could open 3 windows that looked like this ...

One was for something called email. Another was for something called "Chat" or "Instant Messaging". A third was for something called "SMS" or "Texting".

They all looked rather the same and did rather similar things, but they all worked somewhat differently with different phones and different computers. The SMS was the most restrictive, it was limited to less than 200 ascii characters! Despite being so limited, it cost much more than the others. It worked, however, with the archaic phones that persisted in the US until 2012.

Pretty bad eh? It gets worse. I'd tell you about Twitter, but you wouldn't understand it at all.

Aren't you glad you're not living in the dark ages any more?


Personal computing 2020: More and less

OpenDoc was ambitious (emphases mine) ....
OpenDoc was a multi-platform software componentry framework standard for compound documents, inspired by the Xerox Star system ...
...The basic idea of OpenDoc was to create small, reusable components, responsible for a specific task, such as text editing, bitmap editing or browsing an FTP server. OpenDoc provided a framework in which these components could run together, and a document format for storing the data created by each component..
... OpenDoc was one of Apple's earliest experiments with open standards and collaborative development methods with other companies...
... OpenDoc components were invariably large and slow. For instance, opening a simple text editor part would often require 2 megabytes of RAM or more, whereas the same editor written as a standalone application could be as small as 32 KB...
... each part saved its data within Bento (the former name of an OpenDoc compound document file format) in its own internal binary format...
OpenDoc failed of course. It's easy to say it was ahead of its time, but it may be more correct to say it was a part of a future that will never come.

In recent years even the much more modest Open Document Format seems to be fading away. The modern trend is to simpler user environments with smaller feature sets and fewer user demands. In many ways, we're returning to the pre-multifinder world of MacOS Classic system 6.

This makes sense. It's increasingly difficult to live in the modern world without net access, but it's obvious that the vast majority of humans cannot live in the world of Win 7 or Office 2010 or OS X -- much less the virus infested XP boxes in most homes. My best guess is that less than 15% of the American population can keep a single net connected computer running well - much less a family network.

So what will things look like 10 years from now?


This will be hard on us geeks. We aren't going to get DateBk 6 on our iPhones. We're going to have get used to a world in which computers are simultaneously more powerful and less capable. We will finally have a single integrated calendar view of personal and work calendars, but those calendaring and information management capabilities will be a shadow of what we once had in Ecco Professional or DateBk and other lost tools of the 80s and 90s.

I really don't know how the DRM wars will turn out; aggressive Digital Rights Management (copy protection) may ironically sustain the (rogue) classic personal computer.

Progress is funny. I think our computing world will be better and more productive in 10 years, but the geeks among us will have to get used to losing tools and capabilities along the way. We'll have to ... (yech) ... be flexible ...
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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

From iPhone users to Google: Thank you for the Nexus One

I love you Google. Thank you for the Nexus One Phone.

Sold unlocked even when subsidized. Google Voice baked in. Navigation. Location sharing. Speech recognition text entry. Speech UI. OLED. Removable battery. Memory on Micro SD card (to 32GB). Noise cancellation. Ogg Vorbis.

I've got six months left on my iPhone AT&T contract. I'm in no hurry to get a new contract now. You can buy this phone without a data plan, stick in a pay-per-use voice/data cash card, and, once Google announces their Google VOIP service, use it largely free with home and office WiFi.

Apple and AT&T will need to be very sweet to keep me.

Update: Arrington review online. The battery life is very short, but even with the iPhone I'm always near a charger. It's life.

Update b: As I read reviews on the Nexus One I'm a bit surprised by admissions of how weak yesterday's crop of Android phones truly are. If I'd bought one I'd have been b*tching big time. Sadly, most geek bloggers are too committed to defending their purchases. In my blogs, I savagely attack the things I own :-).

Update c: The very best sort of competition. Reminds me of the golden age before Microsoft crushed all competition on the PC platform.

Update d: The Nexus is up to 50% cheaper than the iPhone. I think this comparison overstates the gap, but it's technically correct. My bet is the Nexus is closer to 30% cheaper for most users.

Update 1/6/10: Pogue is not amused. I think he missed out on the advantage of using WiFi for data and a very cheap minimal voice plan for voice.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

You too can visit North Korea

I was intrigued by this book review ...
What to Read - Inside the Hermit Kingdom

.... the bizarre spectacle of the vacant Ryugyong Hotel (aka the "Hotel of Doom") towering over Pyongyang...

... If you went out on a moonless night in the years after the nation's electrical grid effectively collapsed, the only way you could tell anyone else was around was by the coal of their cigarette burning in the dark. There's the writing paper sold in state stores, made of corn husks that "would crumble easily if you scratched too hard," so that people wrote on paper scavenged from the margins of newspapers. And then there's Vinalon, "a stiff, shiny synthetic material unique to North Korea," of which the fatherland was ludicrously proud. Vinalon takes dye so poorly that everyone's clothes (which were mostly uniforms to begin with) were limited to drab grays, blues and browns...

...With the factories and electricity shut down, the air over Chungjin is pristine again, and you can see every star in the night sky. Doctors provide herbal remedies, but only because they have nothing else; furthermore, they are required to spend weeks camping out in the mountainous countryside, harvesting wild plants. Some resort to growing their own cotton in order to have bandages. Most North Koreans have never seen a mobile phone and don't know that the Internet exists....
A cross between Shangri-La and Auschwitz, forever mysterious, untouchable, inaccessi...

Oh. Wait. What about Google Earth?

Yep, it works. You can visit the construction site of the Hotel of Doom, and tour Pyongyang from the air. You can even see the USS Pueblo, the only American ship in enemy hands:

There are many more Panoramio images than one might expect (blue boxes above), though only in the tourist parts of the city. There are several attractive sites; the infamous hotel is atypically ugly.

There are very few vehicles in the satellite images or the Panoramio pictures. One nearby city seems to have no significant roads and no vehicles in most of the residential areas.

The North Korean images are not very high resolution. There are no economic incentives to image North Korea, so you don't see anything like standard Saint Paul resolution ...

Within a few years though, even the low res treatment will show playground structures and perhaps pedestrians. The flying tours of North Korea will only improve.

We can see much of them, and they cannot see us at all.

It's an eerie sensation.

Which brings me to my first (and, thus far, only) prediction for the next decade.

The North Korean government will collapse.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

GrandView and idea management software - Fallows and more

James referenced a host of interesting modern software. Of the list he gave I can personally vouch for the very affordable OmniOutliner (which most closely resembles GrandView) and the terribly expensive MindManager. I'd also add Inspiration, which he omitted. Inspiration is still around, though it's now marketed only to schools and no longer actively developed.

There are several other OS X apps in this domain; Matt Neuburg used to write on this topic and Ted Goranson wrote "About this Particular Outliner" from 2003 to 2008 starting with a must-read history column. (Yes, one day there will be historians of software, who will write doctoral theses about the role of MORE 3.1.)

There are so many fine designs in these old products. Perhaps we need software archeologists to resurrect them for modern reuse. If you know of old copies, don't toss them out. Get them onto a hard drive. There will always be emulators to run them.
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Hotwire saved us $100 on a 1 week auto rental

Hotwire did far better than the competition on a recent car rental.

Including taxes and the like, our total cost is about $15-$16 a day for a 1 week rental.

Priceline, Travelocity and Kayak weren't in the same league.

Friday, January 01, 2010

American spine movement: Brooks signs up

Maybe it's the influence of Gail Collins, maybe it's disgust with the GOP's institutionalized hysteria, maybe it's just chance, but David Brooks wrote a largely sensible editorial today.

He's effectively joined the American Spine Development Association, a now bipartisan movement to bring a smidgen of the courage of past generations to our cowardly modernity.

Perfection is not an option. Planes will blow up. An America with a spine will lose fewer planes and spend less than eternity at war. Spineless America will elect Sarah Palin.

Spine is good.